Fifty isn’t old. She always insisted that she wasn’t our mother, but sometimes she sort of was. She has always been great to have on side, and has been one of those folk you had to work at to keep sweet. She never put up with half-hearted attempts at friendship. It seemed at times that she was hard work, but in a good way. She never talked down the people around her. Condescension wasn’t her thing. She wanted everyone to be at her level, which was grand until she got her doctorate.
After a while I decided to tell him who I was. Without missing a step in his Wellington boots or looking round, he said only “Ah ken that.” This was an unexpected response that forced me to look back hard to see if I could ever remember meeting an older me. I couldn’t.
In all likelihood the Ho’din’ O’ Hogmanay predates the celebration of Christmas in Scotland. Believe it or not, Christmas is quite a new holiday in Scotland. It was only made a public holiday in 1958 and many places of work in the industrial south were still operational on the day well into the late 60s.
Word came to me that you died peacefully, that you slipped away in your sleep. Chrissie, I hope that’s true. In those moments I hope you were content, and that you had around you all the people and voices you needed to see and hear, and I hope you felt the love of those who were far away.
Now I catch myself wondering about our little rituals of hope; those routine things that we do to invest in the future and safeguard us from the past or our nightmares.
Today, regardless of what we think we are doing, we are not remembering the dead of that horrific war. The so-called ‘Great War’ is now all but beyond the horizon of living memory. Instead we are sharing in – not remembering – an imagined past; a glorious celebration of invented heroes who serve only to justify more modern, less morally justifiable wars – land and resource grabs.
From between the crosses, row on row, John McCrae’s blood-spattered blossom has come down to us from on high that we might remember. Remember what? The Fallen! What Fallen? All the Fallen!
Long Scots tradition had it, even in the midst of austere Calvinism, that oan the nicht o’ Samhain the de’il an’ aw his dubh yins wad be aboon. It was a night of bogles, carlins, and the odd lurking kelpie. Auld yarns and songs, in a time when even the adults swore by their encounters with the banshee, made sure the bairns were terrified.